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Churches regularly sustain the same hierarchy in Sunday morning ministries. It is not planned that way; it just is. Some things that happen in church on Sunday morning are high on people's priority list; others are not. What some people contribute to a worship service is often recognized by a congregation as more valuable to Christian nurturing than what others do.
THE HIERARCHY OF MINISTRIES
The following hierarchy of Sunday morning ministries is broadly accepted:
If anyone's name is on the permanent outdoor church sign, it is the man or woman who usually occupies the Sunday morning pulpit. It is not uncommon for the name of the person preaching the sermon to appear in bold type in the church bulletin. People may even express disappointment when they arrive at church to find that the regular preaching minister is absent and someone else is in the pulpit.
I attended a service one time while Arthur Calliandro was serving as assistant minister to Norman Vincent Peale at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. When I arrived, I was greeted on the front steps by Dr. Calliandro, who had been engaged in a serious conversation with the head greeter. I overheard the usher say to Dr. Calliandro, "I feel sorry for you." Moments later Ilearned that Dr. Peale was home in bed, sick with the flu, and the assistant pastor was to preach in his place. Like everybody else, I was disappointed, but unlike everybody else, I considered leaving. After the service, I was glad I had stayed, for Dr. Calliandro preached a good sermon that ended with an absorbing story I have remembered even after all these years.
The apostle Paul, who wrote about the "foolishness of what was preached" (1 Corinthians 1:21), also wrote, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Romans 10:14). Most of us will agree with Paul about the paradox of preaching and agree with the churchgoing public that preaching is the first priority on the Sunday morning worship agenda.
Next to preaching, Martin Luther believed that teaching was the highest calling from God. Teaching is mentioned scores of times in the New Testament. Jesus was called Teacher and often taught in both Galilee and Judea. Teaching is listed among the spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:7). On his missionary journeys, Paul went first to the synagogues where he taught from the Scriptures. It is fully Christian and biblical that great numbers of people in churches everywhere are committed to teaching-a ministry that approximates the importance of preaching in the hierarchy of Sunday morning ministries.
The pastor who preaches without teaching (or the church that evangelizes without nurturing the converts) is obscuring the full purpose of the cross and is missing one of the vital ministries of the Holy Spirit: "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and ... will guide you into all truth" (John 14:26; 16:13).
Celebrating with Music to the Glory of God
I can remember an era in the church I attended when music consistently rivaled the impact of preaching and teaching in Sunday worship. The just-right combination of a superb organist, a polished professional pianist, and a nationally known minister of music, who directed a carefully recruited choir, had brought the ministry of our church music to an inspiring level. There were mornings when the singing lifted the people to a worship plateau typically reserved for the pastor's sermon. The music consistently fulfilled the admonition of the apostle Paul, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly ... as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).
However, whether or not the music electrifies the worship atmosphere is not the point. Churchgoing people love music. And a church with inspiring music is likely to have a larger congregation for the sermon than a church without inspiring music.
Organized Friendliness of Greeters
The ministry of church greeters is a late bloomer in the family of volunteer Christian services. It is an adjunct to preaching, teaching, and music. But it is a ministry-a very important one, and one that is becoming more important. Sinner and saint understand the language of kindness equally well. When someone is emotionally down, an ounce of kindness is worth a pound of preaching. This is one of the reasons church greeters have an important ministry. Anyone can pass out bulletins. But Christian kindness is a ministry for church greeters who care deeply about people.
THE BIBLICAL PRECEDENT
All churches need to rise to the occasion as modern-day counterparts to the ancient doorkeepers in the house of the Lord. Congregations without an organized greeters' ministry need to create one. Others need to improve the ministry already in place. This is especially true in small and midsized congregations that have lagged behind their more aggressive counterparts in large churches. And all churches, large and small, need to celebrate organized friendship along with the psalmist, who wrote, "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! ... I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked" (Psalm 84:1, 10).
The biblical reminder of the importance of a doorkeeper ministry comes from an ancient family chronicle. The spirit of family pride shines through in the story of Shallum, who was a member of the fourth generation among the "fellow gatekeepers from his family ... responsible for guarding the thresholds of the Tent just as their fathers had been responsible for guarding the entrance to the dwelling of the Lord" (1 Chronicles 9:19). Serving as a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord was no small matter in those days. Neither is it now.
From the tabernacle to the temple to the synagogue to the New Testament church, the ministry of greeting has taken on increasing importance. For more than three hundred years, Christians worshiped mainly in homes or house churches. Therefore the host actually welcomed the worshipers into his own home.
In Rome, where Christians were afraid to gather openly in homes, they appropriated the catacombs-an interlinked system of tunnels beneath the city-for their places of worship. It takes little imagination to visualize the personal warmth and the authentic welcome extended to each other as one isolated Christian after another slipped past the guards to join the underground believers for worship.
Friendship is at the very heart of Christian brotherhood. It has been there from the beginning. All the modern church has added to the important atmosphere of mutual acceptance in the New Testament church is the identification of volunteer greeters as an organized group. Thankfully, the work of greeters in the modernday church has been organized and institutionalized as a recognized ministry in the family of Christian volunteers. Their much needed gifts and graces have been honed by adequate training and experience to raise their level of effectiveness, and the church foyer has been designated as their place of service. In warmhearted churches everywhere, official church greeters have become the doers of a recognized ministry based on a biblical precedent.
THE ONE-ANOTHER MINISTRY
No assignment in the church is more one-on-one than the ministry of greeters. The foyer is their chapel, the information desk their pulpit, and the walk-around spaces their parish.
In contrast to the greeters at the doors of the church, pastors welcome the congregation en masse, often from behind a self-protecting pulpit. As some have noted, pastors stand several steps above contradiction, while they literally look down on the people. Teachers welcome classes in the isolation of small rooms behind closed doors. Choir members wear robes intended to obscure individual personalities and blend a large number of persons into a single unit as they sing their call to worship. Some choir members don't even look at the people as they sing their choral welcome but keep their eyes fixed on the director. But church greeters have a one-another ministry-face
to face, hand to hand, heart to heart with the people they are called to serve. Church greeters in large churches may minister in a number of parking lots or in mammoth foyers, but their Christian service is to one customer at a time, just as it is in the smallest church. And to make their work even more important, church greeters are the first people others meet when arriving at church.
On Main Street, out where people make their daily bread, there has arisen an intense interest concerning first impressions made on customers as they enter a place of business. The directors of a bank's board on which I served often expressed their concern that tellers, who are the first line of encounter with customers, are at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of salaries and status. In our bank, the best paid people worked with secretaries behind closed doors in order to guard their offices against random access and thus conserve the banker's time and energy for important matters. But down on the main floor where customers came and went, the ambassadors of goodwill were people serving at entry-level jobs.
I've often wondered if people's perceptions of church greeters in some congregations may be similarly confused. Are
Excerpted from Serving as a Church Greeter by Paul E. Engle
Copyright © 2002 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.